Please Note: Whilst some forms of Body Modification may be performed in some cultures without consent, this article is intended to discuss forms of modification performed by a trained proffessional on a consenting participant.
Body Modification and Paganism.
Body Modification has as long a history as the human race, Body Modifications, Body Art and other "improvements" on nature are as old as civilization itself, and were practiced in some form by nearly every primitive culture. All known primitive tribes practiced some form of Paganism, which simply refers to any spiritual practices that are both polytheistic, and pre-Christian. These include folk religions that use animistic, pantheistic or transformational shamanic practices and rituals. Primitive pagan cultures were historically referred to as "heathens" or "savages," these words had negative connotations and were used by the adherents of Western monotheistic religions. Pagan tribal culture and spirituality typically revolved around the concept that souls or spirits exist in humans, as well as in animals, plants or inanimate objects. When used by a Pagan shaman, healer or priest, a shamanic transformation fetish can alter the perceived reality of the subject, having a social and spiritual, as well as a chemical and metabolic effect on them.
In many primitive cultures, body art, body ornamentation and body modification have long been used to accentuate the differences between the sexes by emphasising those differences.
Body Modification was often used in rituals, to honor a particular deity, totem orspirit, and as an offering in sacrificial ceremonies; however sometimes, body modification was used for nothing more that simply beautifying the body. Jewelry and fetishes containing animal parts such as teeth, bone, skin or hide, claws, talons and hair played a particularly significant role in early Pagan beliefs. The wearer of these types of ornaments believed that he or she actually possessed the soul of the animal from which it came, imbuing the wearer with the animal's attributes and strengths: speed, courage, strength, cunning and stealthiness.
Many of the items used in historical or primative Body Modification were considered to be fetishes or totems by the cultures they were used in. In the tribal world, a fetish is any object, be it natural or man-made, that is believed to have supernatural powers, or power over others. The term fetishism describes the attribution of inherent power of a given object, or fetish. The word was derived from the French word "fétiche," which comes from the Portuguese word "feitiço," and the Latin word "facticius", meaning "artificial," and "facere", meaning "to make". The traditional tribal use of the fetish was tied to every aspect of village life, from agricultural concerns, weather and social harmony or discord, to health, fertility and procreation. Fetishes are typically modeled after the object of concern, such as a person, animal, body part, etc. A totem is similar to a fetish in that it is an inanimate object (carved figurine, animal part, etc.) that has shamanistic powers, and takes the form of an animal or other naturalistic figure that spiritually represents a group of related people, tribes or clans.
Today the practice of Body Modification is increasing in modern Pagan communities. Why?
The Body is the outward representation of our inner self, Body language speaks loudly to those around us. Bodies communicate meaning via postures, and stance. The way a person treats their body tells us much about them and about what they believe in. The Pagan disciples of body modification understand this. They reject the societial standards of what is considered acceptable and embrace tribal religion and self-worship instead, they show their way of perceiving the world by what they do to their bodies.
The Spiritual nature of Body Modification is so strong that there has even been a Church created for practitioners, the mission statement of the Church of Body Modification declares, "Each of us is wise in our reasons. Each of us is powerful in authority over ourselves. Our bodies are the physical structure, our temple; the encasement of our own very personal dreams and experiences, our beliefs and our hopes. We stand absolutely firm on our birthright of ownership of our individual bodies... Together now we share a New World of our own creation."
Pagan's who work from a shamanic, tribal or primordial basis may use body modification in a manner similar to a vision quest, a transformative psychic experience, reconnecting the physical with the divine, it is nothing less than an individual way of revealing the souls and connecting with the spiritual realm. Body Modification and Body Art is often used within a ritual context to heal the body and mind, allowing the practitioner to reconnect with the soul. Many Pagans create their own rituals and symbols of meaning in association with Body Art and Body Modification in order to connect to the Divine within.For some Pagans Body Modifications are extremely sacred rituals, through these various mediums they customize their bodies and proclaim publicly that wthey are in control of their destiny. Any spiritual quest demands a sacrifice if it is to have meaning. The pain of a Body Modification is a path to transformation. If it didn't hurt and wasn't difficult it wouldn't mean anything. To them Body Modification is an embodiment of an individual's spirit and soul, as well as an important step on a spiritual quest.
It has been my experience that many people who choose to modify their physical form think of their modifications as a way of reclaiming their body from a society which insists on defining what is 'right' or 'proper' for other individauls, a way of outwardly showing their ownership and control of their own body and therefore, self determination.
Other Pagan's see Body Modification as a way of reconnecting with the practices of our ancestors. Through participating in the almost lost tribal arts of our ancestors, they believe they can reclaim an understanding of nature by symbolizing that the body is sacred and connected to our Mother Earth and deserving of respect.
Many Pagans embrace body modification as a rite of passage that marks a defining point in one's life, an expression of an integral part of one's psyche, setting the individual apart from the mundane and may choose to have body modification incorporated into their initiations.
With the increased rise in other forms of Pagan practices such as Gothic, Vampyric and Neo-tribal paganism and with the acceptance of tattooing and piercing within the mainstream community, especially the younger generations , there has been a definate shift towards the incorporation of body modification within various pagan practices.
This is not to say that all Pagans are happy with this shift, many "old school" Pagans who fought so hard to be able to openly celebrate their beliefs feel a sense of betrayal by their Body Modifying fellow Pagans - feeling perhaps that such a shift towards openly displaying a divergance from the mainstream can only harm the wider Pagan Community.
Whichever side of the fence you sit on, Body Modification has become a part of modern Pagan practices, much as it was for our ancestors. It is up to Pagans to have an understanding of the practices even if one chooses not to participate in them, because sooner or later you may be asked to participate in a Ritual involving Body Modification and in order to decide if you will participate you need to understand the basics.
Personally I welcome the practice of consentual Body Modification and have undergone multiple Body Modification ceremonies both for myself and others, it can be a very powerfully moving experience when performed in the right hands and under the correct settings.
Warning: should you wish to participate in a Body Modification Ceremony, please ensure you have full knowledge of the proceedure that will be performed, the level of pain, the appropriate after care and that the proceedure is performed by a person qualified to do it. Many Tattooists and Piercing Professional are Pagan and will help you plan your cemerony within the context of the proceedure to ensure your Ceremony goes off without a hitch
(c)2008. Lady Rohanna Ravenswing
Body Art is the deliberate but temporary modification of any part of the human body which may be for the following reasons:
Some forms of Body Art may include:
Body Modification is the deliberate and permanant altering of the human body for non-medical reasons, these reasons may incorporate one or more of the following:
Body Modification can range from something that is considered a 'socially acceptable' decoration (e.g., pierced ears in many western societies) to the religiously mandated (e.g., circumcision in a number of cultures), and anywhere in between.
Some forms of Body Modification may include
Ornamentation proceedures are generally conducted to enhance and 'show off' a particular body part, ornaments are generally in places where they may been seen by the public or in places meant to be seen (in private) by a partner.
Unlike ornamentation, surgical procedures are generally not meant to be exposed, but rather an augmentation to the part of the body.
Nullification or Removal
This involves the voluntary removal of body parts, both moderate and extreme.
Moderate and common forms of of nullification may include
Body parts that are removed by those practicing extreme body nullification are for example:
Some people who desire a nullification may be diagnosed with body integrity identity disorder or apotemnophilia. They may also suffer from disease or disability in which they consider the body part they wish removed a liability. This may include breast cancer - in which removal of the breast decreases the chance of death or reoccurance of cancer, or paralysis in which unusable legs may decrease mobility.Long Term Applications
Body modifications occurring as the end result of long term activities or practices
Other forms of extreme body modification may include: